I am not a huge reader. For me to read a certain book every year means that it has a serious impact on my spiritual life and ministry. Here are three books that I read every year of my life and why they are so central to me:
On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde
This brilliant book breaks down into common language the precepts in Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. In Luther’s disputation, he addresses the question, “Can man do anything to advance his cause in righteousness?” Contextually, Luther is addressing the problem of works-righteousness in the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Forde brilliantly captures the two basic religious theologies: the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. In my experience, there are very few theological concepts more pivotal for a youth pastor to understand than the distinction between the two. Most of the historically negative aspects of youth ministry — legalism, entertainment, hyper-emotionalism — can be attributed to misunderstanding Christianity as a theology of glory, rather than a theology of the cross. This book grounds my philosophy of ministry and reinforces the centrality of the cross in teaching and theology.
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen
People can maintain their skepticism about mystical writings, particularly those of the Desert Fathers, but this book does more for my prayer life than any other. Nouwen looks at the practice of the Desert Fathers, who spent years in silence and solitude while concentrating on repentance from the world and whole-hearted commitment to Jesus. The three sections focus on solitude, silence and prayers as spiritual disciplines that draw us closer to God and make us more sensitive to His voice and will in our lives. I consider this book particularly helpful in this day and age given the lack of silence we have with technology. Each year, I will take two or three days to go into the woods with my Bible and The Way of the Heart. I always come back refreshed by my time with God.
One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian
Different youth pastors have different struggles. For me, I wrestle with a performance-based identity. I have difficulty putting down work at night. I wake up thinking about the things I have to do. I carry unrealistic expectations about how much I can produce. Altogether, success and productivity are idols from which I must repent constantly. One Way Love speaks very powerfully to how grace frees people from a performance treadmill. The book identifies our lack of belief in the completed work of Christ as the heart-level issue behind our frenetic pace. It brings me back to the grace of God. The book was recently published in 2013, but I intend to pull it out each year to help me repent from performance idols and walk in light of the Gospel.